Happy after-Thanksgiving, everybody. Hope you had your fill of fattening birds, parade floats and talking to your very religious grandparents. I was gonna write this on Thanksgiving Day itself, but stuff came up. However, it has been a while since we dabbled into the wonders of Budget Hell, and this one is gonna be a doozy. Consider this the Thanksgiving special.
You’ve probably heard of America’s Army. Sponsored by the U.S. Army, the game was a significant hit in its day. Known for being an accurate simulation of Army activities — at least, for a military video game, anyway — as well as the constant “JOIN THE ARMY” overtones, it was a decent little game for its time. At one point, the U.S. Navy sponsored Sony’s SOCOM series of video games. Realizing the “big boys” were getting video game deals, the U.S. National Guard decided to have their own sponsored game. A free, sponsored game, just like the U.S. Army. Problem is, it’s one of the worst free games out there.
PRISM: Guard Shield is a futuristic first-person shooter that was advertised by the National Guard. I don’t know who the developer is exactly, the company mentioned on the website is Rival Interactive, a developer of sub-par strategy games like Real War and a program about Neonatal Intensive Care Units. However, the game also show the logo of another familiar developer: Rebellion Developments. Ah yes, Rebellion Developments. That UK developer that gave us such great hits like Dead to Rights: Reckoning, Shellshock 2: Blood Trials, NeverDead and motherfuckin’ Rogue Warrior. So already I know what I’m coming in for, as I’ve played DTR: Reckoning and Call of Duty: World at War – Final Fronts, so I am familiar with their body of work, and it usually varies from “not completely terrible” to “how did this get commercially released?”
You play as a nameless, faceless character named Frank Shepherd. No, he’s not related to the Half-Life: Opposing Force character, and I doubt he’ll tell you that this is his favorite store on the Citadel. A successful graduate of the Gordon Freeman school of Character Development, you’re just doing a routine security guard beat at a “New York Harbor” — that’s what the game calls it — and are forced to shoot generic goons while occasionally picking up intel and scanning laptops. Along the way, you find a wounded soldier of PRISM — which stands for something but I don’t remember what — and then eventually becoming a PRISM soldier yourself. The next few levels involve you doing the same thing over and over: Shoot generic bad guys, occasionally save hostages and defuse bombs, and grab more intel by grabbing papers, scanning laptops and knocking people out with your taser.
I’m familiar with this game for one reason: Back when this was new, I got an email from Fileplanet saying I could get a free T-shirt if I filled out the form and played this silly game. I obliged, and after installing it, I realized the horror within. I remember playing this during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2005, alternating between playing the game, and watching the floats and silly Broadway shows. As for the T-shirt, I got it months later in the wrong size. It was a black T-shirt with the logo and a dead link on the back. As far as I know, it’s up in my attic somewhere with other junk clothes, including a Nascar t-shirt I won from a live GameSpot event back in 2006.
Since the last time I played this in 2006, it seems new missions were added to the single player, bumping the level count from 2 levels to 7, including a dam, a subway area, and an airport. Filled to the brim with enemies who like shuffling back and forth, having the intelligence of a drunk person. They’re also pretty damn accurate and will whittle your armor and health quickly if you’re not careful, making the levels a pain to play even on Easy difficulty. Worst off, the final level was broken for me: No audio clips, the enemies wouldn’t fight and were permanently stuck in the model reference pose. I’m honestly not surprised they didn’t bother to check if the levels functioned as intended.
The game’s multiplayer, which was likely the more appealing item of the game, was just bog-standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, and a co-op survival mode where you could modify how many enemies appeared, whether there were bombs or hostages, and even if you needed to beat it in a certain time limit. It was “Powered by Gamespy,” which didn’t mean much by 2006. Much like its single player, it was not a fun experience whatsoever. It doesn’t even work now, selecting the online multiplayer option causes it to show a mysterious error message before going to an endless error message loop that forces me to quit the program with Task Manager just so I can get back to my computer. But from what I played of it back in the day, it certainly wasn’t gonna leave Counter-Strike in the dust, that’s for sure.
Even by 2006 standards, this game was an awful budget title. The only redeeming elements are the corny voice acting and the innocuous action music. The shooting isn’t very fun, the missions feel uninspired, it just feels like it was crapped out just to sucker the National Guard into backing a terrible product. I bet they regret giving these fools money to sponsor this video game. Apparently there was gonna be a retail expansion, PRISM: Threat Level Red, but that never got off the ground, and thank christ it didn’t judging by the quality of Guard Shield. It seems the last update for this game was released in 2008, so there must have been a small following to keep updating this game for that long.
If you’re curious enough to play it, you could still access the PRISM: Guard Shield website and download it for free, but it’s not worth the time or frustration to play it. Much like a lot of Rebellion’s back catalog. Thankfully it can only go up from here.
(EDIT 9/20/2013: I guess that website really wasn’t gonna last forever. I replaced it with an archive.org version if you wanna see, but if you want to download the game, Gamershell has it if you’re morbidly curious.)